CHANGE MANAGEMENT: A People-Based Solution (part one)

Scott R. Thomas
President, PeopleWorx, Inc.

Over nearly two decades, organizational change management (OCM) has grown into a business discipline of its own, supported by a cadre of tools, techniques, templates and processes. It has produced courses and curriculum, best practices and well-known practitioners. However, in my experience, all of these efforts continue to diminish the impact of the single, most critical element that determines the success or failure of an organization’s change initiative – it’s the people!

Tools, Tips and Tricks

Don’t get me wrong – for much of my professional career, I’ve hunted, experimented, and made my own improvements to some of the best change management techniques available. Over many years, I’ve poured through the vast experience and knowledge of those who purported to know how to get it done best. I’d not only be willing, but look forward, to spending my energy and efforts to make these tools as precise and re-useable as possible. I really enjoy – no, I mean really enjoy – finding a method, procedure or document template that would allow me to create a reliable, repeatable approach to handle all of the details and potential hurdles of managing a change management process. However, while it did provide for some great tools, these tools were not the answer I was looking for. Let’s be clear – you’ll never hear someone say, “My project failed because my project management software [tools] didn’t work.”
While techniques and tools can help to make change management efforts more efficient, and reduce the amount of time it may take to perform the administrative portion of the discipline – the necessary documentation, structure and organization – if that’s what your considering to be change management, your organization change efforts are doomed to fail.
So, what is it that’s really missing? Is it possible that there’s no best way to get it done? Are we all in pursuit of the Golden Fleece that doesn’t exist? No, we’re not! Not only is there hope for those of us who still believe that there’s absolutely a best way to do it, but if you can apply this approach to whatever tools and techniques you do use, you will dramatically multiply your probability for success!

When Change Isn’t About the Change At All

Here’s the thing – change management isn’t really about the process of change, at all. While we all may have our own preferences for the tools and methods we used to manage whatever the organizational change may be (I know I do), the success of organizational change is largely all about the people that must adopt and use the change.
I’ve seen it before, and perhaps you have too – an organizational change effort that is almost so obvious that nearly anyone could have come up with the idea. It’s a change that makes so much sense that more than one person is simply amazed that the change hasn’t occurred already. In fact, if it’s that obvious, chances are that it has been tried already – and failed miserably. Why?
That organizational change, and so many others, failed because those charged with stewarding that change through the organization often assume that everyone impacted by the change is:

  1. Knowledgeable about the impact of the change on the performance of the organization, and more importantly
  2. Just as enthusiastic about the impact of the change on their individual roles and responsibilities.

All too often, a Change Manager has failed to take the time and energy necessary to understand why, how and if impacted individuals may be likely to adopt a change or, as in the case of the obvious change that never changed, resist the change with every fiber of their being.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “Wait a minute – if the boss says that the organization is going to adopt a change, they’re going to adopt the change!” You may also use a phrase that I’ve actually seen used as the key message to team members when communicating an important change initiative: “Everyone is going to adopt this change, including those that replace those that don’t!” You can probably guess how that turned out.
There is a proven technique that will overcome nearly all objections and resistance to organizational change. Adapt your change management approach early enough, and given enough time, it’s possible to eliminate organizational resistance to change – entirely! I know, that’s a pretty audacious claim, and I don’t have enough space here to share everything necessary for this to be the case – but I can demonstrate that when applied to almost any methodology, you can get the results you’re looking for, and it’s not “rocket science.”

Organizational Psychology Applied

It’s not “rocket science”, but it is psychology. This methodology is based on principles of organizational psychology, the science of individual motivations, behaviors and conflict management. There’s much to be said on those topics, but for my purpose here, let me apply these principles to a discussion of my preferred 10-point change management model, which follows.

We Are All the Same [1]

Here’s the basic idea: As human beings, we are both the same and different than everyone else. We are the same, in that we are all driven – to do, say, pursue and behave – in ways that support our own self-interests. Simply put, we do what we do because it adds to our own personal sense of self-worth and what’s important to us. We call these drivers “motivations.” We are all driven by a blend of three concerns:

  1. People - A concern for the welfare of other people, and being seen as helpful to other prople
  2. Performance - A concern for achievement and task accomplishment, taking on risks for rewards, and
  3. Process - A concern for structure, organization, independence and pursuit of what’s “right.”

Again, we are all the same in that we are all driven by a blend of those three concerns.

We Are All Different [1]

We are all different in exaclty how the blend of motivations takes place, in our own personal psyche. For some, one of those concerns will be stronger than the other two, while for others two will be stronger than the third, and still in others the blend among the three will be fairly equal.

With this in mind, and taking a people-based approach to change management, here’s how that enhances my use of my favorite 10-point change management model [2].

Begin with Culture

At its core, an organization’s culture is a representation of the collective connections that team members have with an organization. That culture may be influenced by the organization’s stated Mission, Vision and Values – but those organizational structures are very heavily influenced by the motivations and concerns of an organization’s founder(s), senior leadership, key stakeholders and even the teams of resources on the front lines.
Few individuals join an organization for no reason at all. There’s always a reason – because of:

  1. The people and how the organization helps those who benefit from that help, or
  2. What the organization achieves and the role they, the individual, could play in that achievement, and
  3. The challenges and the problems to be solved, or
  4. A blend of those three (see what I did there?).

If, after a short time, a team member concludes that the reason(s) that they joined an organization aren’t true – they rarely stay for very long. If they do stay, it’s accompanied by a deep sense of dissatisfaction that not only affects their own performance, but the mood and performance of those around them.

As a change manager, pay attention to the culture of an organization and to the culture of an organization’s teams. Does the proposed change enhance the culture connection for impacted team member’s, or does it create a hurdle between the organization’s culture and team members’ motivations for wanting to belong to that organization in the first place? As a change manager, you can draw team members into the change instead of pushing them out of it. If it creates a hurdle, or hinders that cultural connection, you’ve got yourself a recipe for resistance to change, and to be honest, it’s no one’s fault but your own.
If you’re not sure whether it enhances or hinders the cultural connection, then you have some work to do before you’re in a position to make a case for the change.

Start at the Top

While it’s critically important to engage all levels of an organization in an important change, all successful change management initiatives “start at the top,” with senior management or executive team champions, with the strong support of the CEO.
While it’s certainly not universal, it is common to see a strong-minded, achievement-oriented, risk-taking (#2 of the above three concerns) individual in the CEO role, and as such, I might expect to be able to garner strong support and a vocal Champion for a change initiative when that CEO is able to make a strong connection between a proposed change initiative and the initiative’s ability to produce exceptional returns on performance.
On the contrary, if the only core of my propoeal is only that the change initiative “will really make the lives of our team members easier” (#1 of the above three concerns) or “is the right thing to do” (#3 of the above three concerns), I may lose the one and only opportunity I have to secure the CEO as an ardent supporter and champion.

Involve Every Layer

Top-level management is not the only level at which a change initiative can be derailed. Change initiatives will ultimately impact team members at all levels of the organization, even if only somewhat. Depending on the reader’s own personal motivations, he/she might be inclined to satisfy their own concerns, such as speedy achievement (#2 of the above three concerns) and by-pass the time it might take to create grass-roots support for a change initiative, or (better yet) to actually ask front-line team members for their opinions regarding how the change initiative might be improved.
However, to borrow a metaphor, it would not be the first time that a mutiny was organized by the deck crew. In the long run, even a change manager driven by concerns of speedy achievement can see that, in the long run, it will save time-to-deployment to engage every layer of the organization in order to achieve the ultimate success of the change management initiative.

Make the Rational & Emotional Argument Together

As described already, an organization’s people are driven to commit to the organization for a wide range of reasons – a varying degree of three different perspectives. While some of these motivations, concerns or values may appear to range somewhere between the emotional and the rational – they are all, in fact, emotional reasons.
These motivations originate at our core – they are not just how we think, or how we behave, but who we are. They are intrinsically connected to the "why" of who we are both personally and professionally. So, the admonition here could more accurately be expressed as, “Make the emotional argument…using the most appropriate rational or emotional language that allows your stakeholders to actually hear what you’re saying.”Act Your Way into New ThinkingThe motivations-based model, on which this discussion is based, is different than many other psychometric tools common in the business environment today. Several of those behavior-based tools analyze, in depth, how people behave “today” as an indicator of how they would be likely to behave “tomorrow.”
However, the behaviors that people use change moment-by-moment, and it is nearly impossible for us to know why someone behaves the way they do – unless we are able to discern the “why” (core motivations) behind the “what”, of those behaviors.
So, when designing a change initiative or creating/modifying a process in support of a change initiative, a change manager must consider the desired behaviors and all of the potential reasons why (but really there are only three) that a team member might be enthusiastic, not just begrudgingly willing, to adopt the desired behavior. In truth, with thoughtful consideration of motivations, a change manager can provide every person in an organization intensely personal, emotional reasons why they should be an advocate for the change initiative in question.Next Time…In the next edition of this post, we will discuss the remaining 5 Principles of Leading Change Management: Engage, Engage, Engage Lead Outside the Lines Leverage Formal Solutions Leverage Informal Solutions, and Assess & Adapt. [1]

About the Author

Scott R. Thomas is the President of PeopleWorx, Inc. - a principle-based consulting firm developing organizations through people - and brings more than 30 years of enterprise chnage management, program management, project management, and organizational development to his clients in a wide range of industries, including financial services, healthcare services and the utilities industry.

The above referenced principles are drawn from [1] Dr. Elias H. Porter, and Relationship Awareness Theory©, and the Strengths Deployment Inventory©, PSP - Carlsbad, CA. [2] 10 Principles of Change Management, Aguirre & Alpern, Summer 2004 & 10 Principles of Leading Change Management, July 2016.

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